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Birth makes babies but not necessarily mothers. Although none of us like to think about it, for some the process is simply biological and the resultant small person expendable. My daughter was born to a woman who did not seem to be capable of selfless love. The many long-term bruises she left on my daughter’s young body were negligible beside the bruises she left on her spirit. Once a victim of abuse herself, this woman could soak her children in enough self-hatred to reduce them to uncontrollable sobs in a matter of hours—even at an amusement park. Her children had nightmares and nosebleeds any night before they knew they were to see her. “She’ll never let us go,” my daughter told me bitterly one night in the middle of a stream of tears. “We’re hers.” My daughter couldn’t even read yet, but she understood the situation better than her court guardian.
Like so many stories of terrible custody battles, the one I walked into when my husband found me and I married him was long and ugly. The legal system just seemed to complicate matters. I carefully avoided being between the two factions, but I couldn’t avoid being a part of the awful searing pain. The ending came like the end of an earthquake—horrific shaking, then frightening aftershocks, and finally an unquiet peace. At last the woman sent the children to live with us, because they insisted. I like to think on some level she was sorry for the emotional carnage she had caused. The children exacted an awful price for her mistreatment. They eventually severed all ties with her. I never asked them to refer to me as their mother or call me “Mom.” But after some time, one by one, they did.
Thus, I was thrust into motherhood without ever giving birth. I didn’t have nine months of excited anticipation or baby showers or congratulations. I skipped stretch marks and nursing bras. One day I was a self-centered co-ed and the next, I had a family. We all worked hard to make the family sound. At picnics of the extended family, I was the only person who wasn’t biologically related to anyone. No one wanted to hear my stories. And, my birth family wasn’t particularly excited about seeing photos of my children. My husband did what he could to ease my way, but it was my daughter who finally created the family I had missed.
When my daughter and her husband were expecting their first child, I was as nervous as they were. I was oddly silent during her baby shower. Other women had to offer advice about the stages of pregnancy. I had no clue. I started worrying about the time when the new mother would look to her “mother” for advice. What would I say? How would I know? As my husband and I rushed to the hospital, I wondered if I should be there.
My daughter lay in the hospital bed, her first child in her arms. “Here, Mom,” she instructed me. “Take her.” I was terrified. I held the new baby like a new father might. “This is your grandma,” my daughter told the child. I felt lightning ping-ponging around through my heart. The tiny pink face squinted at me and settled against my chest. I was small and huge at once. My husband smiled.
Since then, there have been other exceedingly wonderful babies who have grown into grandchildren I have to think are nearly perfect. My daughter and her husband scowl if I question my right to be hailed as Gramma. “Of course you are,” she scolds. And I think she’s right. Deep down beneath logic, my daughter and I believe we were always meant to be family. I feel her when we’re apart. Now well-liked, professionally successful, and respected by her colleagues, she created this website to rescue me from emotional exhaustion. She tells my husband and me that we saved her…and she saved me right back.